In the last few weeks the world has seen incredible change. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads to the far reaches of the globe, cities and countries that have operated as well-oiled machines now find themselves grinding to a halt. Strict measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus such as social distancing and the closure of non-essential services means that daily life as we know it has drastically changed.
In an article recently published by Forbes entitled “COVID-19 Now We All Know What It’s Like To Be Old & Alone” author Joseph Coughlin illustrates how many of the challenges individuals find themselves having to quickly acclimate to, social isolation, acquiring groceries and basic necessities, and stress associated with ensuring access to medication and treatment, are commonplace for many older adults in our society. Mandatory social isolation, for example, has left many younger people scrambling for ways to cope, using everything from self-help books and guided meditation to board games and face-time group chats. Whereas for many older individuals, social isolation is a normal part of their everyday life.
Coughlin, founder of the Technology AgeLab, believes that this time alone can serve an invaluable opportunity to empathize with the mental and emotional struggle that older adults regularly face. Taking this empathy exercise one step further, Coughlin shines a light on another often-overlooked transition for many older people, the move from work to home life. As businesses have scrambled in the last few days to set up work from home options, many employees have found themselves in a jarring new reality. This is in fact the reality that many older adults face once they reach the age of mandatory retirement. One day they’re working and the next they are retired, with their workplace, clients, coworkers and routine simply gone.
While this opportunity for empathy training may be a silver lining in this otherwise bleak time, it is important to recognize that while many people are just now experiencing what an average day in the life of some older adults may look like, COVID-19 has greatly exacerbated many of these preexisting challenges facing older adults. Beyond just the clinical perspective which sees older adults being disproportionally affected by the virus, ageism is larger than life itself. A recent article in the New York Times highlights a resurgence in the use of outdated language and even the emergence of cruel hashtags such as “#BoomerRemover”.
Furthermore, while many individuals may now be able to understand the frustration of shopping for basic supplies amidst panic buying, it is imperative to remember that for older adults these challenges are often compounded by pre-existing issues, limited mobility, transportation and increased risk can make tasks which are already difficult at this time, virtually impossible.
Use this time to practice more than empathy, practice action, reach out to loved ones and neighbors, check in and lend a hand where able. It is our combined responsibility to ensure that the rights and needs of older adults are a priority during this transformative time. For more information on COVID-19 and the impact on older people, contact IFA expert in combatting ageism and age-related discrimination, Liat Ayalon.
Liat Ayalon, Ph.D. Professor
I am a clinical psychologist and a Professor at Bar Ilan University.